According to a recent report by ForresterResearch, “Death of a (B2B) Salesman,” one million sales reps will lose their jobs to e-commerce by 2020. 

That’s 22% of the 4.5 million United States-based B2B sales agents. Forrester says sales reps at wholesalers and distributors will be impacted more so than any other sector.

So, let me say that again — up to 22% of distribution sales reps will lose their jobs to e-commerce in the next four-and-a-half years. Holy cow!

In my new book, I begin a conversation on the “Wheel of Disruption” distributors are facing. The Forrester report augments this view by clearly articulating the sales profession is being disrupted.

My belief is salespeople must disrupt themselves — now! They must become they disrupter rather than the disrupted.


Here’s why

Over the years I have spent two days a week, 20 weeks a year out in the field watching and observing salespeople perform. I’ve seen my share of amazing, talented, and successful sales professionals who consistently knock it out of the park while creating raving fans by identifying and satisfying their customer’s needs — profitably.

I’ve also seen more than my share of salespeople who don’t get it. They continually pray for a better product at a cheaper price. They have not educated themselves on their own firm’s value proposition and value-added services and as such have become commoditized. They have not developed their skills to compete in these disruptive times and wish for the days of “I like you, you like me, please buy from me.”

For example, earlier this year I spent two days with a sales rep as he was calling on end users.

Despite 99% of customers feeling it’s important that vendors come to meetings well-prepared and they already understand the customer’s business and industry, there was no research conducted prior to any of the calls.

Forget that all our customers are pressed for time, there was not a single appointment scheduled in those two days.

Despite the fact customers want to engage in meaningful discussions, not one agenda was forwarded before the calls.

And forget about sales, it’s human nature to want to be heard and listened to. Amazingly, not one note was taken by this sales rep in the course of two days.

I don’t have the space here to tell you the entire story, but by chance we found ourselves in the general manager’s office of a key “target account.” By chance, this general manager started to divulge his strategy and how he wanted to replace his primary supplier (the competitor of this rep). Not one probing follow-up question. No drilling down to understand the business reasoning for the general manager wanting to make the move. And no discussion — none —  on agreeing to work toward a strategy that would meet this customer’s business objectives while positioning our company as the primary supplier.

This sales rep is about to get disrupted if he doesn’t quickly disrupt himself.

Sales managers and business owners, I want you to know that the story I just shared is the norm throughout distribution rather than the exception. Last year I had a video discussion with Supply House Times Editor Mike Miazga (view the video at that explored the relevancy of salespeople.


Some quick takeaways:

·         Ninety percent of distribution salespeople are using outdated and antiquated selling skills. If they don’t disrupt themselves, they will be disrupted in this new business age where:

·         Mobile, bandwidth and the Internet are fundamentally changing everyone’s daily routines.

·         Digital competitors are taking advantage of new platforms, tools and relationships to undercut rivals and get closer to the customers —  disrupting the usual way of doing business.

·         B2B customers are somewhere between 55% and 90% of the way through the purchase process before contacting suppliers.

·         Buyers have all the same information sales reps have and are not afraid to use it.


Time to disrupt

In my book, one CEO of a Fortune 500 distributor says he was told pointblank by both his largest supplier and his largest customer that “distribution as we know it is dead.” The traditional role of pick, pack and ship with a local salesforce focused on strong product knowledge as its key value proposition is being disrupted by the likes of Amazon and others who are investing heavily in next-generation technologies.

Forrester, in this latest report, clearly points out the salesperson who has not evolved his or her skills, capabilities and expertise beyond “relationships,” processing orders and sharing of product information is going to feel this disruption in a very personal way.

As leaders in the industry and leaders in our businesses, we owe it to our salespeople to show them a path to disrupt themselves. And there is a path. They must move beyond commercial visiting (40% of all distributor salespeople) and product peddling (50%) to the consultative (8%) and sustaining resource (2%) professionals. And today there is even a more advanced type of salesperson coming onto the scene — the disruptor.

Next time we’ll look at the specifics of who The Disruptor Salesperson is and how you can disrupt yourself. I also encourage you to take a look at the short film, “It’s Time to Change the Rules.” See here to access the film.

Disruption is all about changing the rules. Disrupt your customer’s current thinking to collaboratively create a new vision for the future.


 This article was originally titled “It’s time to disrupt yourself!” in the June 2015 print edition of Supply House Times.